Are CMOs’ Jobs in Jeopardy?

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The stakes are up for chief marketing officers in 2017, as 30 percent of CEOs surveyed by Forrester Research indicated they would fire these C-level professionals in the new year. Data from Accenture Strategy uncovered a similar trend, with 37 percent of CEOs saying their CMOs are “first on the firing line if growth targets are not met,” writes Robert Wollan, senior managing director at Accenture Strategy, in this month’s The Tipping Point (page 6).

A major reason, according to Shar VanBoskirk, a Forrester Research vice president and principal analyst serving CMOs, is that businesses are in a “post-digital era” in which customers don’t think of digital experiences as separate from physical ones. Amid political and institutional uncertainty, customers value trustworthiness and positivity from the entities with which they interact. In such a climate, the onus of demonstrating company promises often falls on marketing leaders.

Unfortunately, many struggle to keep up, still thinking of their function as maximizing the reach, frequency, and exposures of promotions, VanBoskirk says. In turn, they overwhelm their customers with too much contact, she adds.

Further, marketers have long treated digital as a “bolt-on” function and focused more on click-through rates or pitching new products than connecting with customers holistically, VanBoskirk contends.

But “we expect that in 2017, the pressures of post-digital customers will force CMOs to begin to develop a post-digital mind-set themselves,” she says.

Marketers will try to create more “one-to-moment experiences,” VanBoskirk says, working to identify each customer’s needs at an exact moment in time.

Firms won’t have to throw away established practices or buy a host of new tools. Rather, they should leverage existing practices and tools in original ways and incorporate the three Hs—humanism, helpfulness, and handiness.

For companies to be more human, helpful, and handy, marketers will have to blend the art and science of their roles. “Neither the high-energy creative CMO nor the data wonk will be enough to carry marketing functions and business strategy into the age of the customer,” Forrester’s report states. They’ll have to follow the lead of companies like the Gap and Macy’s, which have combined digital fluency with business acumen.

CMOs who want to outlast the average tenure of 44 months will also have to step up training initiatives and invest in people, not just processes. According to the research, staffing is a major problem; many firms fail to build effective teams. In fact, 33 percent of marketing leaders cited a lack of talent as a major challenge.

Yuping Liu-Thompkins, a professor and marketing department chair at Old Dominion University, agrees, noting many companies struggle to find people with marketing, technology, and sales backgrounds who can serve as liaisons and “bring the different pieces together.”

Indeed, employees who are “uniquely versed in all three areas—maybe not an expert on all three, but versed in them”—are highly sought after, she says.

Forrester points out, too, that marketers have to work closely with chief information officers. “In 2017, further disappointment with agencies and a growing need for systems of insight that link customer data with business data will spur the CMO to better cooperate with the tech management group,” the report reads. These leaders need to get marketers, technologists, and design and customer experience professionals to tackle emerging customer challenges together. Central to such efforts will be investments in contextual marketing software.

One company that has successfully brought it all together, says VanBoskirk, is sports apparel manufacturer Under Armour. It has invested millions in building a connected ecosystem of smart devices, online communities, customized e-commerce stores, and mobile apps, all focused on the brand promise of making athletes better. “Instead of just spending to promote products or to communicate a brand promise, Under Armour is actually creating utilities that really do make athletes better,” she says. “Its connected ecosystem helps athletes train, plan meals, connect with other runners, replace faulty equipment, and find equipment that suits their body types, fitness goals, even fitness levels.”

On the B2B side, office products retailer Staples has developed its “Easy System” to help office managers restock supply closets. “The system allows anyone with permission to order products through an app, an easy button, email, text message, and voice commands,” VanBoskirk says. “It aggregates orders so the office manager doesn’t over-order, and it is self-learning so that it auto-replenishes with preferred brands. This is also all in the name of demonstrating the Staples brand promise: We make it easy to make more happen.”

Marketers would be well advised to follow suit. 

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